Welcome, Guest! - or
Easy to remember!  »  VinNews.com

New York - The Jewish Week Defends Its Continues Attack On 'Haredim'

Published on: August 1, 2008 10:43 AM
By: The Jewish Week - By Gary Rosenblatt
Change text size Text Size  

New York- ‘Please stop writing out against us,” read the e-mail message I received recently from someone who identified himself as Chaim, a local haredi man, pleading with me not to be “the lackey for people who have no idea what Torah is. Please.”

I responded to his e-mail with one of my own, and before I knew it we were back and forth in an exchange I’ve found both fascinating and frustrating.

The specific piece I wrote that set Chaim off was a profile of Rabbi Benjamin Lau (read it here ), a leader of the Religious Zionist camp in Israel who seeks to head a movement of like-minded rabbis to wrest control of the Chief Rabbinate, complaining that the institution that controls key elements of personal status in Israel — birth, marriage, divorce, burial and religious identity — lacks tolerance, compassion and dignity (“Taking On Israel’s Chief Rabbinate,” July 11).


In fairness I have no doubt there are other examples of columns, news stories and editorials in The Jewish Week of late that could be perceived as critical of elements of haredi life, from its anti-Zionist ideology to avoidance of army service in Israel to a rabbinic ban on an Orthodox singer’s concert at Madison Square Garden because it would lead to licentious behavior.

Even a fair and accurate translation of the word haredim (literally, shakers), such as “ultra-Orthodox” and “fervently Orthodox” is a subject of dispute.

In the piece on Rabbi Lau, I cited the recent conflicts in Israel over the observance of shmitta [allowing the land to lie fallow every seventh year] and conversion, where both cases precipitated wide-scale complaints in Israel, including among much of the Orthodox community, that the dominant haredi position was so narrow and parochial as to harm the overall Israeli society. (The estimated haredi population of Israel is 12 percent, and expected to reach 17 percent by 2020.)

Chaim cited a sentence I wrote in the piece that read: “Rabbi Lau says such action by the haredim underscores their indifference if not hostility toward a modern Jewish state, and he says the time to act against them is now.”

Chaim asserted: “If I would write those last eight words, I would be called an anti-Semite.”

I wrote back to Chaim that his complaint against me constituted a case of “kill the messenger,” and that the profile of Rabbi Lau merely reflected how he and others felt about the deteriorating state of the haredi-influenced Chief Rabbinate. I noted that there is much I admire about haredi life — such as its deep devotion to ritual practice and Talmud study, and a commitment to Torah education, and teaching, that includes a high degree of selflessness and financial sacrifice.

But I added that such admiration does not extend to haredi attitudes toward Zionism, which are either neutral or anti. And I concluded by asking if Chaim was asking me “to stop writing about serious issues in our Jewish community.”

“Yes,” he responded. “Sorry but you have no legitimate basis to disparage a large kehilla [community]. Also, your facts are flat-out wrong.” He asked what grounds I found in halacha [Jewish law] for making it permissible “to disparage in the name of ‘reporting.’”

And so it went. Chaim invited me to spend a Shabbat with him in his haredi neighborhood and meet some of his rabbinic leaders. I, in turn, finding the exchange absorbing but time-consuming, suggested we meet face-to-face over lunch. He agreed immediately — “where? when?” — and that’s where things stand now.

I don’t expect to change Chaim’s mind on the issues, but do hope to point out the irony of his feeling that haredim are the underdogs of Jewish life, unfairly criticized by other Jews and just wanting to be left alone to live their lives of religious devotion. On the contrary, it appears to me and many others that the haredim in Israel are unduly influencing the lives of others through the rulings and bureaucracy of the Chief Rabbinate. And, I would add, haredim place additional burdens on Israeli society by eschewing military service and often living on welfare because the highest value in haredi life is for men to study Talmud full-time, well into adulthood, rather than work to support their large families.

No doubt stereotypes abound, but it is a sad statement when so many haredim view secular Israelis as godless primitives with no connection to or knowledge and appreciation of their Jewish roots, and so many Israelis see the haredim as religious primitives living off of society while refusing to endorse or defend the Zionist state.

Yonoson Rosenblum, an American-born and Ivy League-educated haredi rabbi who lives in Jerusalem and directs the outreach efforts of the Agudath Israel there, wades into these treacherous waters in an essay in the current issue of The Jewish Observer, an Agudath Israel magazine published here.

Asking “Can The Haredim Save Israel?” he writes that the haredim have pockets of effective outreach but do not seem prepared “to assume the burden of instilling a strong dose of Jewish identity” among secular Israelis.

“The traditional, and perhaps still dominant, self-perception of the community is of itself as a small, beleaguered minority, which must focus all its efforts on its own self-protection,” according to Rabbi Rosenblum. He acknowledges that as long as haredim are seen as financially dependent on Israeli society, their views on how to strengthen Jewish life will not be sought.

Putting aside whether haredi young men better serve their country by praying and studying Talmud or joining the army, I agree with Rabbi Rosenblum’s assertion that haredim have a role to play in helping Israelis better understand and value their own rich Jewish heritage, especially at a time when Israelis receive so little Jewish education. But the gap of distrust and dislike between the haredim and the rest of Israeli society is growing. Rather than continuing to disparage each other from an ideological distance, convinced that The Other will disappear, they should be meeting and listening to each other, recognizing they are each vital components of a Jewish world that is getting smaller and more embattled, and needs all the strength it can muster.

That’s what I’ll try to tell Chaim when we meet — and I’ll do my best to hear him as well

More of today's headlines

Williamsburg, NY - Former Mayor Ed Koch, who is endorsing Rep. Ed Towns today, told me he decided to stick with the veteran Brooklyn congressman in part because the two... Bentonville, AR - Wal-Mart Stores Inc is mobilizing U.S. store managers to lobby against Democrats in November's presidential election, fearing they will make it easier...



Read Comments (15)  —  Post Yours »


 Aug 01, 2008 at 10:50 AM Jewish Week Says:

The chillunim hate always HATED the charedi and Torah... This is news?


 Aug 01, 2008 at 11:57 AM ZEITUNG Says:

Gary Rosenblatt has demonized every segment of Chredei,Frum or any Torah observant segment of Judaisim. As Gary says "I don’t expect to change Chaim’s mind on the issues" There is no way to change Gary's mind set and report biased anti-religious rhetoric, a sport that he relishes in with every opportunity he gets. In other words he loves to disparage orthodox Jews.

Rosenblatt has no regard for decency and he has no regard for seeking the truth or facts in his reporting. He has no issue with defaming, vilifying and slandering Orthodox Jewry it’s leaders and communities. He frames every column to fit his personal hostility towards Charedei life, which seems to stem from his pangs of personal guilt feelings of being a Jew with no public or personal display or performance of faith and appreciation of G-D and the Torah.

Rosenblatt panders to Jews who despise Torah observant Jews, Orthodox Jews, Chassidim and other segments of “Frumkeit” that make queasy and uncomfortable the non religious Jews or non-Jews that are anointed as Jews by charlatan clergy and we must be cognizant of this and not engage in any dialog with Rosenblatt as it is useless to change his modus aperendi and “Chiam” engaging with him in dialog is senseless and a detriment as Rosenblatt will use this as to further demonize “Frum” Jews.


 Aug 01, 2008 at 12:01 PM BE REAL Says:

Every newspaper including Jewish Week, 5townpaper, Yated, Hamodia, JP, NY Times, has a POINT OF VIEW which is evident from the editor and appointed writers on the paper. Most of the papers follow the editors POV, covering both sides of the story and/or contradicting opinions is not popular, this is even more evident in Judaic non fiction and history books. Sort of the rewriting of history generation.


 Aug 01, 2008 at 12:23 PM yenta Says:

ikvese demeshicha


 Aug 01, 2008 at 12:40 PM Anonymous Says:

Gary has taken an issue that I'm involved in; without getting all the true facts he demonized me and many others affiliated with me. He called us, we didn't respond. He sent us messages for our side of the story, we didn't respond.
Now, does that give him the Halachic authority to spew all the one sided information in his paper, just because he heard some information? He may refer to his sources as reliable. But he defamed an entire group without hearing or presenting both sides.
Until that episode I used to be an avid Jewish Week reader. At that time I and a few others cancelled our subscrption.
At one point, responsible Halachic authorities should take him to task to determine what prevails; Halacha or resposible reporting? Where does responsible reporting begin and end? Who makes the decision what is responsible? If with responsible reporting he will defame someone is that permisable by Halacha?
It would be nice to know if he has any Halachic backing.
We know that even in YU, there is respect for Halacha. Gary is supossedly a YU graduate. Did he ever have a discussion with Rav Schechter Shlit'a, Rav YB Soloveitchik A'H or Rav Dovid Lifschitz A'H about this 'responsible reporting'? If he did, he should share the results of those discussions.
Disappointed Jew.


 Aug 01, 2008 at 12:55 PM David Says:

anon 12:40
Why didn't you respond? What did you expect to happen if you did not?


 Aug 01, 2008 at 02:00 PM Frum in my heart Says:

Unfortunately, this time he may actually be right. So sad.


 Aug 01, 2008 at 02:18 PM Anonymous Says:

When your to'en tells you to stay clear of the media because they just take information out of context, then you just follow their direction.


 Aug 01, 2008 at 03:46 PM Anonymous Says:

The Jewish Week is not a religious newspaperand is not geared to solely Orthodox readers. Apparently he gave you ample opportunity to respond but you chose not to.


 Aug 01, 2008 at 05:06 PM All below Says:

Does anybody commenting here know Gary? as a Neighbor? Co-Congregant? Old family friend?.....No?

Thats why you all talkin' Narishkeit....Just because you don't like or are embaressed by what he writes or publishes doesn't mean you should to disparage him personally.


 Aug 01, 2008 at 05:55 PM anonymous Says:

TO: All Below
Gary Rosenblatt is fair game to attack personaly just like he attacks his Orthodox Jewish victims.
He most cerntainly should be disparaged personaly
Quid pro quo. Does Gary Know his victims he defames as a neighbor? Co-Congregant? Old Family Freind?
I have a freind , Co-Congregant old family freind that Gary Rosenblatt destroyed in public with his merciless venom. Sorry but none of this is Narishkeit.


 Aug 01, 2008 at 07:33 PM Moving to the Left Says:

Why is everybody so bent out of shape by this? In the Charedi community everyone who is not Charedi is looked upon as a goy. All of a sudden people are up in arms.


 Aug 02, 2008 at 10:50 PM Anonymous Says:

Why shouldn't they be criticized? They live in Israel where one is required to serve in the army....they don't. They live off of the tax dollars of working Israelis so that they could have more kids that they can afford and choose to study instead of working to supporting their family. And if that was not enough, they try to impose their religious beliefs on others, and have no respect for they way less religious jews live their lives. So please tell me, why should their parasitic lifestyle not be criticized?


 Aug 03, 2008 at 06:56 PM bigwheeel Says:

...That's what I'll try to tell Chaim when we meet---and I'll do my best to hear him as well...
...But meanwhile [until you meet him], try to put your prejudice and your "Holier-Than-Thou", lofty position aside!!!


 Aug 04, 2008 at 12:08 PM Anonymous Says:

Gary is my neighbor and yes I know him very well and he is a true mentsch.


to post a comment

Click here to sign-in.

Scroll Up

Sell your scrap gold and broken jewelry and earn hard cash sell gold today!